The second GOP presidential debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley California, was marked by chaos, with candidates frequently shouting over one another and moderators generally having trouble getting the event back under control.
But former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who also previously served as U.N. Ambassador under former President Donald Trump, stayed out of the fray. Her quiet patience appeared to pay off, particularly with one of the night’s most memorable moments, and in general with what came across as an informed, polished debate performance.
The super PAC supporting her bid for President agrees.
In a memo sent Thursday morning from SFA Fund, the group declared victory, boldly stating that Haley “shines amid a stagnant stage.”
“It is clear that Nikki owned the stage with memorable lines, substantive answers to the toughest issues facing our nation, and it’s evident that she isn’t afraid to hold other candidates on the stage accountable to their records,” the memo reads.
That memorable moment came after businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who in both debates so far has seemed to irk his GOP rivals, defended his use of the social media platform TikTok, an app that conservatives have targeted over its ties to China and potential for spying.
“Honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” she quipped.
It was the only zinger of the night to land, and overshadowed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt at labeling Trump with the nickname “Donald Duck.”
And it was one of the more successful attacks on Ramaswamy on his China ties — he formerly had business interests in the communist nation.
Haley wasn’t the only candidate on stage looking for a standout moment, but while she claimed the night’s most memorable moment, she also appeared to many as the most poised on stage, waiting for her turn to speak and then capitalizing on the time without disrespecting moderators the way some of the lower polling candidates — like Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
SFA Fund pointed specifically to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Scott, both of whom the PAC said “needed to breathe life into their faltering campaigns,” but “did little to move the needle.”
“Nikki rightfully called out DeSantis over his anti-energy policies,” the group wrote, referencing DeSantis’ efforts early in his administration to ban fracking.
“Meanwhile, Nikki took Tim Scott to task for being part of the problem in Washington after all of his years in the Senate without much to show for it,” the PAC continued in its memo.
The group also pointed to what amounted to a silly back-and-forth in which Scott’s largest beef with Haley was over a non-scandal about Haley spending $50,000 on curtains as U.N. Ambassador that was debunked. The purchase was made during former President Barack Obama’s administration, before Haley even stepped foot into the official ambassador’s residence.
SFA Fund’s analysis also leveled criticism at most of the GOP pack who “jockeyed for time and failed to raise their profiles.”
“Nikki dominated the stage with thoughtful and strategic answers that would end the border crisis, ensure America’s positioning on the global stage, reduce inflation, invest in American companies, and fix our healthcare system,” the analysis reads.
SFA Fund confidently declared that Haley is “a solid second” after the second GOP presidential debate, a reference to Trump’s far-away lead atop the polls. But the PAC offered a caveat, that her position as No. 2 is “for now.”
“Last night, it wasn’t just Democrats shooting arrows at the governor, but the Trump campaign’s intentional decision to attack her during the debate indicates the former president no longer views DeSantis as the threat to his second term,” they wrote. “Like Biden, it’s clear Trump believes Nikki Haley is the candidate to take him down.”
The statement references an image Trump’s team posted on social media with the Trump campaign logo, along with text beneath it saying, “The Real Nikki Haley.”
SFA Fund closed with a prediction.
“Nikki is surging and we expect that she will continue to do so in the coming weeks and months leading up to the third Republican presidential debate in Miami,” they wrote. “The race to the nomination isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon … it is our belief that the race in Iowa and New Hampshire will be decided in the last 30 days.”
The group said they will focus in the coming weeks on “efforts to ensure voters in the early states hear Nikki’s message, incredible track record, and understand her plan to get our country back on track.”
While the memo exudes confidence, Haley — and all of the candidates not named Trump — have a long slog to the top, a journey many believe is insurmountable.
The average of national polls in the race as of Wednesday put Trump at a staggering 54% support, with DeSantis in a distant second place at nearly 14% and Haley in third with just over 6%.